Safety Akeem Davis draws on experience as a graduate assistant


Safety Akeem Davis, center, prepares to collide with New England’s Zach Moore, left, and Chris Jones during special teams drills at the joint practices in Richmond. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — What the playbook said on a certain call slipped Raheem Morris’s mind, so the Redskins defensive back coach looked to his rookie safety for the answer. Akeem Davis would know.

“Akeem is a coach,” Morris said. “We go into the meeting room and he’s going to rattle that thing off faster than me. There are times when I ask Akeem what the playbook says on certain calls. I’ll say, ‘What’s the term we use in the playbook?’ He’ll say, ‘Backer, coach. Backer.’ ‘Oh, that’s right.’ He knows that playbook like no other.”

If Davis seems like a coach, it’s because he used to be one. After getting cut by the Seattle Seahawks last spring, Davis became a graduate assistant at Memphis, his alma mater. Though it was an unusual route to get back on an NFL team, he said the experience made him a better football player, enabling him to stand out in Redskins training camp.

“I kind of learned how coaches think,” Davis said. “I know the type of things that they’re looking for. I kind of know the tendencies. On the field, I know how a coach wants the player to play. That’s been an advantage for me, being able to be vocal, not only know the playbook, but actually communicate it to the rest of the guys.”

After the 6-foot, 200-pound Davis recorded 162 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass breakups, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 2.5 sacks at Memphis, he signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent last spring, but didn’t make the roster in the fall.

Getting cut didn’t deter Davis’s belief that his “purpose in life” is to be on a football team, so he returned to Memphis to coach. The job allowed him to be around football, have access to the training facilities and become more knowledgeable about the game. He said he knows he may not play a down, but he wants to be on a team to serve as a positive example.

Making a team as an undrafted free agent right out of college is a long shot, but getting picked up by a team after a full year of not playing is even harder. Washington signed Davis in April over former Ravens safety Christian Thompson, a second-year pro.

“I’ve been an underdog all of my life,” Davis said. “I’ve been playing with a chip on my shoulder my entire life. I’ve never been the biggest, fastest, strongest at anything I’ve done. I’d be done if I let the next person outwork me. That’s just a culmination of how I’m rooted, my background and just the type of person that I am deep down inside.”

On the Redskins’ first unofficial depth chart of the season, Davis is listed as the third-string strong safety behind Brandon Meriweather and Philip Thomas. The way he’ll make the team is through special teams, and he said he’s worked on punt and kickoff teams, and he has also taken reps as a punt returner.

Learning the playbook was something Davis considered fun. He said he would break down the concepts and spend no more than a couple of hours learning the playbook after his workout every day, careful not to over do it in one sitting because he would need to digest the information he took in.

Davis said his time as a graduate assistant taught him that coaches like players who can communicate and know what’s going on, whether it’s recognizing when the offense is trying to trick you or anticipating what’s coming next.

“He has to have the ability to take that onto the field, use his key and trigger right now,” Morris said. “That’s the difference. I know the playbook, but I can’t do it right now. So, he’s got to figure that out. Hopefully we get to these games and he can do that thing. I want to see him be a kamikaze on special teams for us right now. That’s how you do it when you’re a young guy, and then get on the field. But right now, he’s doing a nice job of communicating and picking up the defense.”

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

The Redskins’ lone joint practice with the New England Patriots on Wednesday begins at 8:35 a.m. Here’s our camp guide.

Also from The Post:

Maske: Brady just as driven as ever

Wise: Patriots take Redskins to school

New CBs Revis, Browner to aid Pats’ Super Bowl push

Brady puts on a clinic | Observations from Day 13

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

Isabelle Khurshudyan covers local college sports for The Washington Post. You can email her at Isabelle.Khurshudyan@washpost.com and follow her on Twitter @ikhurshudyan.

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Jason Reid · August 6, 2014